We’ve spent countless hours evaluating cordless finish nailers. Many of these battery-powered tools have evolved into their second or even third generations. But before you invest your hard-earned money in something that seems too good to be true, let’s delve into the world of pneumatic vs. cordless nailers. After all, you don’t want to get burned when it comes to a tool as crucial as this for your business.
The Cost Factor: Cordless Nailers vs. Pneumatics
At first glance, cordless nailers may seem shocking compared to their air-powered counterparts. For instance, a cordless nailer like the Milwaukee M18 FUEL 18ga Brad Nailer comes with a price tag of around $279 without any additional accessories. In comparison, similar pneumatic options from Makita, Senco, and DeWalt cost only $70 to $99.
However, it’s important to consider that neither tool works alone. With cordless models, you’re looking at an additional $399 for a 3Ah battery and charger. On the other hand, to use pneumatic nailers, you’ll need a high-quality compressor like the Rolair VT25BIG, along with hoses and fittings. So, in terms of the initial investment, cordless nailers do have a higher cost.
It’s worth noting that most professionals don’t rely on just one nail gun. It’s common practice to have a narrow crown stapler and a larger finishing stapler, like a 15 or 16 gauge, in their arsenal. If you opt for the Milwaukee M18 FUEL nailers, the bare tools will cost you around $299 without batteries and a charger. If you choose to get the kit, you’ll have to shell out $399 to $429.
In fact, if you don’t already own batteries from the same platform, it’s advisable to purchase at least one of them with a battery. On the other hand, you can find pneumatic options for half the price or even less.
Pneumatic vs. Cordless Nailers: The Ergonomics Battle
When it comes to ergonomics, handle design and rubber overmolding take a back seat in this debate. The primary consideration is weight, as it significantly affects maneuverability. Even when factoring in the weight of the sagging hose, the difference between a 2-pound pneumatic stapler and a 7-pound (or heavier) battery-operated model is substantial.
However, weight is just the tip of the iceberg. With a cordless nailer, you no longer have to lug around a hose. You won’t trip over it, lose balance while working at different heights and angles, or be confined to a specific length. Furthermore, you won’t have to deal with the background noise and inconvenience of a compressor. This is particularly beneficial if you work in areas where people are present.
Performance Showdown: Pneumatic vs. Cordless Nailers
Having extensively tested the current range of battery-operated rechargeable nailers on the market, we can confidently say that they deliver outstanding performance. Most of them perform as expected, driving nails hassle-free. However, there is a noticeable difference in the firing cycle.
Naturally, pneumatic nailers fire as soon as you pull the trigger. On the other hand, cordless models usually have a slight delay due to their different mechanisms. At present, there are two main battery nailing technologies available:
Freewheel-Based Cordless Nailers
Cordless nailers using a flywheel mechanism require the flywheel to spin up before driving the nail, resulting in a brief delay upon firing the first nail. This can be somewhat frustrating and feels different from using air tools. Brands like Porter-Cable, Bostitch, and DeWalt incorporate flywheel technology in their cordless nailers.
Nitrogen Cylinder-Based Cordless Nailers
Gas cylinder nailers utilize a fixed volume of nitrogen. The tool employs a battery and an electric motor to pressurize the cylinder, enabling instant firing similar to a pneumatic nail gun. These nailers operate as closed-loop systems and generally have a more compact launch mechanism. Models from Milwaukee, Senco, and Metabo HPT fall into this category.
In our experience, we prefer the nitrogen cylinder-based nailers as they tend to have faster response times. They are also more compact since they utilize a smaller launch mechanism.
Cordless vs. Air Nailers: Run Times
In terms of runtimes, air nailers have an advantage. They can operate until your power source runs out or until you have to wait for the air compressor to restart. However, even cordless nailers with compact batteries can drive hundreds of nails on a single charge. Some models can fire over 1600 rounds before needing a recharge.
Where things get interesting is when the nailer stops working. For cordless models, you simply replace the batteries and charge the spent ones. Although you’re unlikely to have more than two cycling batteries even with a compact battery, this is generally sufficient for smaller jobs.
For longer and larger projects, pneumatic nailers still make sense. Power supply, compressor, and hose-related issues are rarely a problem. In most cases, runtime is not the limiting factor. Instead, weight and overall ergonomics become more critical considerations.
Pneumatic and Cordless Nailers: Maintenance Matters
Compared to battery-operated cordless nailers, air nailers have a simpler design. However, pneumatics involve numerous interconnected components. It’s crucial to ensure that your hoses are free from leaks, and the couplers and NPT connections are well sealed.
You’ll also need to ensure that your compressor has enough gas or a reliable power source. Daily oiling of the nailer and monitoring the compressor’s oil level (if applicable) are additional maintenance tasks.
With cordless nailers, these considerations become null and void. All you need are a few batteries to get started. However, cordless nailers have more moving parts, including electronics and motors. Unlike simple mechanical air tools, cordless nailers introduce additional complexity to an otherwise straightforward tool.
Considering maintenance, the manufacturer’s warranty becomes significant when comparing pneumatic and cordless nailers. Since most people lack the necessary training and skills to repair a battery-powered nailer, having a warranty resource provides an estimate of how long you can reasonably expect to use the tool.
Pneumatic vs. Cordless Nailers: Setup and Takedown
For a sense of fun, I decided to time how long it took from unloading my gear to firing the first nail. With a pneumatic setup, it required two steps: connecting a compressor and attaching the hose and nail gun. While you also have to grab nails and other materials, the same applies to cordless nailers.
Setting up the pneumatic combination took me more than 6 minutes, including finding a bung, connecting the hose and nailer, and bringing the compressor to working pressure. In contrast, my cordless nailer took only 30 seconds from unloading it to firing the first nail.
This was just a test on the ground. When factoring in the time it takes to navigate around and through a house to reach the backyard or upper floors, those minutes start to add up. Throughout the day, you’ll find yourself constantly moving the compressor and hoses.
At the end of the day, you’ll have to make two trips to return the pneumatic tools to the truck. By then, you’ll likely be exhausted. However, using a cordless nailer system can save you roughly 30 minutes after changing a few rooms. The more you move around the job site, the more time you’ll save.
The Bottom Line: Pneumatic vs. Cordless Nailers
So, should you go cordless or stick with traditional pneumatics?
Ideally, if your budget allows, having both types is optimal. Many professionals, including ourselves, own and use both cordless and pneumatic nailers.
For larger projects like framing, building, or extensive trim work, we still recommend pneumatic nailers. They offer cost efficiency and better ergonomics, as they can be used for extended periods without causing too much fatigue.
However, if you’re tackling punch lists and smaller project-based work, a battery-operated cordless nailer will be your best friend. Cordless tools enable faster completion of smaller jobs.
Ultimately, both air-powered and cordless nailers have their rightful place in the toolbox. It’s too soon to say that one will entirely replace the other anytime soon.
Now it’s your turn. What are your thoughts on the pneumatic vs. cordless nailer debate? Share your opinions by commenting below or reaching out to us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!